Risk Assessing the Return to Buildings

Government guidance for church for re-opening places of worship requires a full risk assessment to be produced to ensure that places of worship can be opened securely without danger to members of the public as well as to staff.  It would be easy to see this as an extra and burdensome bit of bureaucracy, or we could see it as an opportunity. Here are a few thoughts on approaching a risk assessment.

  • See it as an opportunity to lovingly care for your church family
  • Treat the risk assessment as a prayer point. You can even turn the risk review meeting into a prayer meeting and pray for the people and ministries likely to be affected by each risks
  • Don’t forget hidden risks -especially with regards to emotions.  Some people will struggle with having to remain at home whilst others can return.  Others will be distressed and struggle with the gap between previous experience of corporate worship, expectations for return and the actual reality.  Others may be re-entering social contact for the first time and uncertain about how to interact.  Some will want to join in but may be very nervous.   I would encourage individual follow up with those who do attend.
  • Don’t forget that not all risks are equal. We include within our risk plans assessment of probability and impact. Put attention into the high probability, high impact issues.
  • Let more than one person get involved in the planning. Have people with different perspectives cast an eye over it. How will it affect people with specific needs?  Involve both men and women in the planning and assessing.
  • Budget.  Mitigating risks requires time and money. By the way, this also means that if you are only just starting to think about risk management then please don’t attempt to go back to your church building tomorrow. You probably need a few weeks to prepare!
  • Review the plan regularly. Identify people to peer review it and sign off on it that were not involved in doing the assessment. Build actual experience into the risk plan and modify it as you go along.

It is also worth remembering that our detailed risk plans are set in the context of the overall risk. The primary risk that we need to be aware of is that there is a virus that has led to a pandemic and that the virus is still active.  Therefore, our first concern is to ensure that people do not catch and spread the virus. At the same time, we need to communicate what the level of the risk is. We must not be complacent, the potential for people to catch COVID-19 is present, especially if people do not comply with carefully prepared guidance. However, to put it into context, the ONS reckons that:

“an average of 1 in 1,700 individuals within the community population in England had COVID-19 at any given time between 31 May and 13 June 2020.” [1]

Now, that figure is going to vary from area to area. In some places, it will be much lower and some areas much higher. Being aware of the local situation on the ground in your own community will help. This data should reassure people that the risk we are dealing with is manageable. Notice that I am not saying that there is a risk or that it is negligible.  Those figures are based on a lockdown context too. So, what they say is that we can be reasonably confident of looking after people safely, providing that we act responsibly.

Finally, we need to remember that we assess and manage risk because we believe the outcome is worth it. I believe the outcome of beginning to phase in real time and space gatherings of believers is worth it.


[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/coronaviruscovid19infectionsurveypilot/18june2020?fbclid=IwAR0GW9dPy3LWa2n62oeoUlQk0yAP4TDEm_yM2p2ch6u9kLyhEczFAD26_Ao

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